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BY DESIGN : SHOPPERS' SPECIAL : Tales From the Counter : Store customers and salesclerks tolerate a lot. Just ask. Each side has its own horror stories to tell.

October 20, 1994|MAUREEN | SAJBEL / SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Did you hear the one about the woman who got locked in a New York department store dressing room? She called her rescuers via the cellular phone in her purse.

For every amusing shopping story, though, there is an infuriating one, usually involving a salesperson who won't stop chatting on the phone to wait on you. And, unfortunately, very few of us feel the satisfying zing of revenge, as Julia Roberts' snubbed character did in "Pretty Woman."

Of course, store employees also put up with a lot, like the customer unable to commit to a basic blue blazer and the buy-wear-return scam artist.

Here, in the interest of fairness, we recount the horror stories of shoppers and salesclerks.

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Tag, She Was It: Sometimes a horror story begins after leaving the store. Frances Lippman of Los Angeles raced into Robinsons-May and bought a silk dress to wear to a wedding. When the big day came, she took the dress out of the closet to find the store security tag clinging to the hem. "I literally had nothing else to wear, and you know there's no way to get that thing off short of dynamite," she says.

After an "I Love Lucy"-like episode involving pliers, she got the tag off.

"I ruined the dress and wore it anyway," Lippman says. "It was very pretty except for the hole at the bottom."

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Kids Do the Darndest Things: "I was never big on taking my kids shopping because I thought they'd be bored," Westside mom Adrian Miller says. "Or, when they were older, because they'd want everything.

"I've had friends lose their children in stores and find them under a rounder of clothes after they've been hysterically searching and screaming. The kids thought it was a game.

"I've never had that happen, but once, when my son Daniel was a baby, I took him in a stroller into a crowded store. When I got home, I was unpacking the diaper bag and found a bikini. He was shoplifting at the age of 8 months."

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An Affair to Remember: Shirley Sacks of Los Angeles had a friend in her native South Africa who was having an affair with her boss. "A married man, naturally," Sacks recalls.

"He took her into the most expensive dress shop in Johannesburg and bought her a suit, which had to be altered. In the meantime, his wife went into the same store to pick up something she had altered and they gave her (my friend's) suit. They had the same hairdo, they looked similar. . . .

"The wife said, 'This isn't my suit.' And the salesperson said: 'Of course it is. You came in the other day with your husband and tried it on.'

"It ended up in a divorce."

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I'm Trapped and I Can't Get Out: Getting locked in a department store might be someone's idea of heaven, but a New Yorker trapped in Bloomingdale's after closing had a heart-pounding experience. As Katia Ramsey-Read told the New York Times, she lost track of time while trying on Calvin Kleins in an off-the-beaten-aisle dressing room. When she emerged, the store was dark and empty. She groped her way down a motionless escalator and stumbled upon an employees' entrance staffed with a security guard and got out.

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Thanks, but No Thanks--Really: Photographer Anne Bradford of Westwood is a stylish woman who recently experienced a quick weight gain after breast-cancer treatments. Her wardrobe suddenly didn't fit, so she went from department to department in a Century City store, merrily picking up necessities--until she was told to pick up a courtesy phone.

"I wasn't over my credit limit," she recalls. "The man on the other end said they are usually alarmed with sudden shopping sprees, which can mean a stolen card. But my spree was especially alarming because, he said, 'You used to buy 8s. All of a sudden you're buying 14s.' "

After she proved to him that she was the rightful cardholder, Bradford says, "He admonished me for the weight gain."

Bradford then tried a high-end Beverly Hills store, heading to designer clothes on the second floor.

"I zeroed in on a formal dress by a Japanese designer in muted rust, bronze and silver metallic gauze. About $1,500. A man greeted me and asked if I were interested in acquiring this. I said yes and told him I was a Size 14. 'Oh my God,' he said with astonishment. 'We don't carry 14s here.' "

Then, suddenly feeling helpful, he grabbed a lavender Fortuny-type gown and, stretching out the waistline, said, "Maybe this would fit you."

"It was unbelievable," Bradford says. "I'd look like a sausage. I walked away."

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Maybe the Dress Had a Double: The incident happened 20 years ago, but it is embedded in the salesman's memory. A socially prominent woman went to Joseph Magnin in San Francisco, ordered a full-length beaded Halston gown to wear to the opening night of the opera and had it altered.

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